Local Foods and Specialty Crops

(August 6, 2020) Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Specialty Growers Association, and University of Illinois Extension hosted two calls to discuss best practices for your Agritourism or Pick Your Own Operation to operate during COVID-19. You can watch those here and here (same topics covered, just two options).  

(July 20, 2020) Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Specialty Growers Association, and University of Illinois Extension have produced an Agritourism Guides for U-Pick and agritourism businesses during COVID-19. These are recommendations and are subject to change as regulations evolve.

(June 17, 2020) The Illinois Farmers Market Association has updated their COVID-19 guidelines featuring best practice recommendations for social distancing and enhanced sanitation. There are resources for farmers market managers and customers. You can find all of their resources here.

(May 22, 2020) New FDA food safety guidelines require local farmers to review and adapt their current food safety practices. Cleaning and Sanitizing is a four-step process. Read more here.

(May 13, 2020) U-Pick farms in Illinois may be wondering what they can do to continue their operations safely at this time. The following resources are currently available from Purdue University and North Carolina State University.

(April 27, 2020) The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has made available $3 billion in funds for the purchase and distribution of fresh produce and dairy and meat products for Americans facing challenges due to the COVID-19 national emergency. 

  • Federal Register notice can be found here. 
  • Additional Program information can be found here. 
  • Solicitation information can be found here.  

USDA has set up an inbox to receive questions relative to the Food Box Distribution Program: USDAFoodBoxDistributionProgram@usda.gov.

(April 22, 2020) Getting your Farm Stand Up and Running VIRTUALLY

University of Illinois Extension Resources 

Health and Safety on Specialty Crop Farms 

H-2 Visa Applicant Processing

(April 15, 2020) DHS and USDA announced new H2A flexibilities to avoid disruptions in lawful agricultural-related employment. Under this rule an H-2A petitioner with a valid temporary labor certification concerned about workers’ ability to travel to the U.S. can start employing certain foreign workers with current H-2A status already in the U.S. Also, H-2A workers may now stay beyond the 3-year maximum allowable period of stay in the U.S.  

(April 15, 2020) The Department of Labor announced grant funding for migrant and seasonal farm workers to support the economic stability of farmworkers through the National Farmworker Jobs Program (NFJP). Additional information on NJFP grants can be found here. 

USDA has been working diligently with DOL, DHS, and State to limit the disruption in the H-2A workforce caused by COVID-19. Specifically: 

  • Secretary Pompeo, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, has authorized consular officers to expand the categories of H-2 visa applicants whose applications can be adjudicated without an in-person interview.  
  • Consular officers can, if they so choose, now waive the visa interview requirement for first-time and returning H-2 applicants who have no potential ineligibility.   
  • This expansion also increases the period in which returning workers may qualify for an interview waiver. Applicants whose previous visas expired in the last 48 months (increased from 12 months), and who did not require a waiver of ineligibility the last time they applied, do not need to be interviewed in-person if they are applying for the same visa classification as their previous visa. 
  • We anticipate the vast majority of otherwise qualified H-2 applicants will now be adjudicated without an interview. 

USDA continues to work with DOL, DHS, and State to limit the disruption in the H-2A workforce while protecting the health and safety of federal employees and the individuals seeking entry under the H-2 programs.  If there are specific labor-related questions, please email aglabor@usda.gov.  

Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA)

The Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) was enacted at the request of the fruit and vegetable industry to promote fair trade in the industry. PACA protects businesses dealing in fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables by establishing and enforcing a code of fair business practices and by helping companies resolve business disputes. The Agricultural Marketing Service within USDA administers PACA and recently released a COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions for fruit and vegetable growers.

Direct-to-Consumer Sales

Illinois Farm Bureau wants to help members convey the message that Illinois farmers are open for business. Farming doesn’t stop, even during a pandemic like COVID-19.  Crops must still be planted, and livestock must receive the care they need. We know that some of our members have food products readily available for sale. Did you know you can utilize resources available through the Illinois Specialty Growers Association to create an online presence for your business and sell your products online to local buyers? Check out the Market Maker system and create your profile now. If you need assistance, check out this handy resource guide.

(March 26, 2020) USDA Food & Nutrition Service

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that leverage American’s agricultural abundance to ensure children and low-income individuals and families have nutritious food to eat. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced additional flexibilities and waivers that support states making it easier for children, seniors, and individuals with disabilities to get food during the COVID-19 national emergency and remove administrative roadblocks for the dedicated local staff who serve them. These changes are in line with USDA’s commitment to keep Americans safe, secure, and healthy during this national emergency and explore all options to keep kids fed during this unprecedented time.  

(April 6, 2020) Finding Meals While Schools are Closed 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced the launch of an online tool – the “Meals for Kids” Site Finder – to help families find meals for children while schools are closed during the coronavirus pandemic. This is the latest in a series of swift actions USDA has taken to keep children and low-income individuals fed during the ongoing health crisis.  

The Meals for Kids interactive map directs people to local sites where kids can get free meals. The site finder currently lists more than 20,000 meal sites from 23 states, and more sites will be added as states submit data each week. The map is available in both English and Spanish at www.fns.usda.gov/meals4kids. 

(March 25, 2020) Farmer Relief Fund through American Farmland Trust

American Farmland Trust announced yesterday a Farmer Relief Fund that will provide $1,000 grants to small and medium size farms that sell at farmers markets or to restaurants, caterers, schools, stores, or makers who use farm products. Applications are open through April 23 and can be found here.

If you have additional questions, reach out to our Associate Director of Food System Development, Raghela Scavuzzo.